History of Chair Caning

History of Chair Caning

Cane work is a form of basketry that has been used in furniture for thousands of years.  It has been dated back to ancient China.  Archeologists have discovered caned chairs in Egyptian tombs dating to 1300 B.C. 

 Caned bottom chairs were popular in Europe around the 17th and early 18th Centuries.  More affluent people purchased chairs with caned seat bottoms.  In America, the common folks had chairs with solid wood seats or seats made from rush or cattails.  Many would make their own chairs and then weave their own cattail seats.

Beginning around the 1830's and 1840's factories could make spindle and dowel construction easily, thus manufacturing chairs fairly quickly.  Cane bottom seats required little wood. Holes were drilled along the wooden frame of the seat.  These holes are used to weave the cane into a seat.

Manufacturers would farm out the chair seat bottoms to weavers to cane the seat at home, thus establishing a seat weaving cottage industry.  But by the 1890's, industrialization made it possible to produce chairs and furniture more quickly and inexpensively.  Since the caning work was the most expensive part of the chair making process, a machine was developed to "weave" together cane to form a sheet.  This sheet was then pressed into a groove in the chair seat bottom.  Thus creating the "pressed cane" chair seat.  Modern furniture still use this method for caned chairs and furniture.

Cane is the term for the material used to make caned seats.  Cane comes from the outer skin of the rattan stalk.  Rattan is the climbing vine plant in the palm family.  It is native to Indonesia, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia.  It can grow up to 600 feet long.  Once the rattan is harvested, its thorns and joints are removed and its bark is separated from the core.  The bark is processed into thin strands, which are used to cane a chair.  

Other materials are used to weave seats and this process is called seat weaving.  Seats can be woven with hickory bark, ash, fiber rush, cattail rush, splint reed or wide binder cane.  These chairs typically have four rungs onto which the material is woven.

Chair Bottomers

Around the 1500's in England and in France, the seat weavers and caners were referred to as "seat bottomers" or just "bottomers" because they wove the bottoms of chair seats.  During this time, most of the seats were woven out of rush or cattails rather than cane.  These seat weavers were referred to as "rush matters" or "matters". 

 During the 1500's and later, many of the homes had dirt floors.  People would throw cattails or rush on the floors to keep down dust and to sleep upon.  Rushes eventually were woven into "mats" that were used to sleep upon.  

Thus, rushers were referred to as "matters".


Click on the link below to see how Rattan Vine is made into Cane for chair seats

Process of Making Cane for Chair Seats

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